Ok, well, we're back. Sunburned, windburned, and completely exhausted, but We Survived. For those too lazy to scroll down: Ellen and I took her 4 and 7 year old half-brothers around Washington DC today, most of the time by ourselves. We went to two museums and the zoo (in 90 degree [32 C] 70% humidity weather). It was more than babysitting, but less than a sleepover. Some impressions:
- When you give anyone, even little kids, respect and treat them with honesty and decency, they'll return the favor.
- Ok, they probably weren't little demons. For some reason they're much better behaved than when they're around their parents. I only had to break up three or four fights, and none of them were serious. I remember enough from being in fights with my own brother to get inside their little heads and neutralize a situation before it got out of control.
- It takes a lot of trust to leave your kids with someone else, even if that someone else is family. It killed their mother to leave them with us, even though she knew we were decent, kind, responsible people. I think it's a genetic thing, some protective instinct left over from when we were all too dumb to think.
- I'm not as worried about being a dad anymore. I thought that, like my mom, I'd end up being good with teenagers but not so good with little kids. I already know I'm pretty good with teenagers (Nina's teaching me more than she's learning from me), but now I at least think I'll be decent with little kids.
- Ellen caused almost as much trouble as the kids did. She has her father's and her grandfather's tendency to take it all way too seriously. A short-fused, congenitally angry woman with more than a little PMS is not the person you want breaking up a sibling fight. She did really well with Paulie (the youngest). She's tremendous with little kids. But she tended to blow fuses around Jay-Jay (who is kind of high-strung) or whenever Jay-Jay and Paulie decided to start smacking each other in public. I'm going to pay for this observation folks, but I have to call 'em like I see 'em. Think of me while I sleep on the couch!
- Body language is the "English" of relating to kids. If you act like you're going to knock them into next week for misbehaving, 7, 8 times out of 10 they'll not call your bluff and back down. I broke up a nascent fight in the men's room with a loud "STOP", and was rather impressed with myself.
- Tiny legs don't go as far as big ones. If you're trekking somewhere far, stick the little one on your shoulders. Trust me, the pain in your back is far less than the pain you'll get from a fit.
- When the big one gets upset that he's not on your shoulders, make a big deal over the fact that he's a big kid now and doesn't need help. Give him just an eensy bit of responsibility to shore him up.
- Kids aren't stupid, and it doesn't pay to lie to them. If at all possible respond to "are we there yet?" with "No. See that light way up there? Once we get to that light we'll be there." or "See that clock? When the clock says 3:10 we'll go." Use "soon" and "some time" and such vagarities sparingly, and know they won't work for long.
- Kids rest "well". Let them sit still for about fifteen minutes, and they're good to go. Unfortunately, wives that work out 6 days a week rest better. Nothing like having a grown woman with better recovery than two sub-10 year old kids. We all let Ellen take the lead!
- They're kids. They're not supposed to make sense. Just nod your head whenever they go bouncing down one non-sequitor-inspired hallway or another and answer "yes, that's interesting". Trying to stop them and get them to explain it all just frustrates you and the kid.
- Museums are cool, but zoos are cooler. Animals that are "real" are much better than dead ones or movies.
Oh yeah, one more thing. We saw an IMAX movie, about T. Rex. It was stoopid, but with an IMAX movie you're too busy ooh'ing and ahh'ing over the visuals and audio to notice how badly the story sucked. The movie was loud, which lead to this choice comment from Jay-Jay, the 7 year old:
That movie was so loud I thought my nose was going to fall off!
Out of the mouths of babes...